An olive ridley sea turtle scoots up the beach to lay her eggs.

Andres Valencia/Aurora Photos/Media Bakery

STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: ETS1.B

CCSS: Writing: 3

TEKS: Science: 4.10C, 5.9C; ELA: 3.12B, 4.12B, 5.12B, 6.11B


Egg Protectors

A scientist and a makeup artist team up to catch poachers who steal sea turtle eggs

During the late summer and early fall, an awesome spectacle takes place on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast. Thousands of olive ridley sea turtles emerge from the ocean. Slowly, they haul themselves up the beach. Using their flippers like shovels, the turtles dig holes in the sand. They lay their eggs. Then they make their way back down the beach and into the sea. 

Hundreds of tourists travel to Nicaragua to see the turtles. But the event also attracts some unwanted visitors. Poachers come to the beaches too. They steal the eggs and sell them on the black market.  

An awesome sight takes place on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast. It happens during the late summer and early fall. Thousands of olive ridley sea turtles come out of the ocean. They slowly pull themselves up the beach. The turtles use their fins like shovels. They dig holes in the sand. They lay their eggs. Then they head back down the beach and into the sea.

Hundreds of people travel to Nicaragua to see the turtles. But the event also attracts some unwanted visitors. Poachers come to the beaches too. They steal the eggs. They sell them illegally.

Artist Lauren Wilde holds one of the decoy eggs.

Scientists with the conservation group Paso Pacifíco are trying to stop the poachers. For the past three years, they have been working on a device called the InvestEGGator. It looks just like a sea turtle egg—with one big difference. It contains a GPS tracker. If poachers steal the decoy, the tracker can send out a signal about where the egg is. 

Ecologist Kim Williams-Guillén worked on the design of the InvestEGGator. She hopes the device helps track down the wildlife criminals. “We may be able to put a big dent in turtle poaching,” she says. 

Scientists are trying to stop the poachers. They’re working with a group called Paso Pacifíco. Together, they’ve been creating a device for the past three years. It’s called the InvestEGGator. It looks just like a sea turtle egg. But it has one big difference. It contains a GPS tracker. It can send out a signal. It gives the fake egg’s location if poachers steal it.

Kim Williams-Guillén is an ecologist. She worked on the design of the InvestEGGator. She hopes it helps track down wildlife criminals. “We may be able to put a big dent in turtle poaching,” she says. 

Turtle Threats

Wild Wonders of Europe/Zankl/NaturePL.com

Sea turtles are some of the most endangered animals on the planet. Out of the seven sea turtle species, six are at risk of becoming extinct.  

From the moment sea turtles are born, they face many threats. Tiny hatchlings must crawl across vast beaches to reach the water. Birds, dogs, and other predators snatch many of them before they get there. In the ocean, turtles can get caught in fishing nets and drown. Many others die from eating plastic trash they mistake for food.

Poachers make life even harder for the turtles. Every year, millions of sea turtle eggs are stolen from nests and sold to restaurants. In some parts of the world, the eggs are considered a delicacy. People pay as much as $300 per egg! 

Sea turtles are some of the most endangered animals on the planet. There are seven sea turtle species. Six of them are at risk of becoming extinct.  

Sea turtles face many threats from the moment they’re born. Tiny hatchlings must crawl across large beaches to reach the water. Birds, dogs, and other animals eat many of them before they get there. Turtles can get caught in fishing nets and drown once in the ocean. Many others die from eating plastic trash. They mistake it for food. 

Poachers make life even harder for the turtles. People steal millions of sea turtle eggs from nests every year. They’re sold to restaurants. The eggs are prized in some parts of the world. People pay as much as $300 per egg! 

A Good Egg

Williams-Guillén was inspired to track poachers after watching a TV show. In the show, government agents used a hidden tracking device to catch a criminal. Williams-Guillén realized that she could do the same thing with turtle eggs.

First, she designed the eggshell on her computer. Then she built it with a 3-D printer. Getting the right texture was tricky. Sea turtle eggs have squishier shells than chicken eggs. Williams-Guillén made the eggs out of a soft type of plastic.

To make the decoys look real, Williams-Guillén turned to Lauren Wilde. She’s a makeup artist who works in film and TV. Wilde helped sand and paint the eggs. She also coated the eggs with waterproof glue to protect the hardware inside. The final egg looks a bit like a Ping-Pong ball. 

Williams-Guillén was inspired to track poachers after watching a TV show. Government agents in the show used a hidden tracking device. It helped them catch a criminal. Williams-Guillén realized she could do the same thing with turtle eggs.

First, she designed the eggshell on her computer. Then she built it with a 3-D printer. Getting the right texture was tricky. Sea turtle eggs have soft shells. They aren’t hard like chicken eggs. Williams-Guillén made the eggs out of a soft type of plastic. 

Williams-Guillén wanted the fake eggs to look real. So she turned to Lauren Wilde. She’s a makeup artist. She works in film and TV. Wilde helped sand and paint the eggs. She also coated them with waterproof glue. It kept the tracker inside safe. The final egg looks a bit like a Ping-Pong ball. 

Tracker Testing

But will the InvestEGGator really work? For the past two years, researcher Helen Pheasey has been testing the eggs in Costa Rica. She wants to see if the tracker works, and if the decoys can fool poachers.

Pheasey has a few tricks to slip InvestEGGators into turtle nests. First, she walks along the beach, looking for turtle tracks. Once Pheasey finds a female, she approaches it quietly so she doesn’t scare it. When the turtle is midway through laying its eggs, Pheasey tucks a fake one into the nest. The turtle lays more eggs, hiding the decoy.

So far, the technology seems to work. Pheasey has successfully tracked a few stolen eggs. She hopes her tests help scientists improve the device and, eventually, put a stop to turtle poaching. “If you can identify poachers’ trade routes, you can have police waiting for them,” she says. That could protect sea turtles for generations to come

But will the InvestEGGator really work? Researcher Helen Pheasey has been trying to find out for the past two years. She’s been testing the eggs in Costa Rica. She wants to see if the fake eggs can fool poachers. And she wants to see if their trackers work.

Pheasey has a few tricks to slip InvestEGGators into turtle nests. First, she walks along the beach. She looks for turtle tracks. She quietly walks up to any females she finds. She doesn’t want to scare them. She waits until a turtle is midway through laying its eggs. Then Pheasey tucks a fake egg into the nest. The turtle lays more eggs. That hides the fake.

So far, the device seems to work. Pheasey has tracked a few stolen eggs. She hopes her tests help scientists improve the device. Eventually, she hopes it helps put a stop to turtle poaching. “If you can identify poachers’ trade routes, you can have police waiting for them,” she says. That could protect sea turtles for generations to come.

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